Cautionary tales of life in the music biz are fraught with the grievances of musicians who are coaxed into ”playing it safe” to avoid potentially alienating fickle fan bases. This explains why most artists can be conveniently slotted into HMV-ready categories.
Not the case for Montreal electronic soundscapist Montag, also known as Antoine Bédard. The spirited composer began making waves in the early 2000s with his sparse, atmospheric concoctions — the kind of dreamy ambience perfectly suited for heavy rotation at 4am in bedrooms everywhere. But he has continually reinvented his sound, progressively stepping into more poppy terrain with lush instrumentation and a string of evocative guest vocalists to boot.
A conversation with the spirited composer, who is set to launch his new cover EP Des cassettes et un Walkman jaune this Saturday, soon brings us to the challenge of labelling his varied musical output.
“I think there’s a way of describing music without saying hip-hop, without saying rock,” he argues. “It’s about describing the instrumentation, the arrangements, the mood as opposed to using categories like techno or electronica, or saying that this artist sounds like that one. I know this might sound geeky, but it’s a lot more interesting from a human perspective to see how your music makes someone feel as opposed to how they’d categorize it.”
After spending three years in Vancouver and travelling the globe with his aptly titled 2007 release Going Places, Bédard yearned for Montreal’s culture and nightlife, so he packed his bags and headed back east. “It’s true that Vancouver’s electronic music circles are pretty limited and cliquey, but I never moved there to be part of a scene anyway,” he says. “I moved there for romance. My boyfriend worked there, so I decided to just tag along. It made sense for me to move out there with him. But I couldn’t stand the rain anymore, and I never really fell in love with the city, so it was time to go.”
And although a city like Montreal thrives on electronic music in its many permutations, that kind of peer support wasn’t an imperative for a bedroom music maker like Bédard. “Good scene or not, it didn’t really make a difference to me,” he says. “I’m kind of a lonely planet in orbit around other scenes. I just do my own thing. I don’t feel like I have to be part of a family. I do have one, in a sense, but it’s spread out all over the world.”
It’s that distinctly Montagian brand of musical introspection that has yielded a frankly unexpected EP covering five wildly disparate acts, from R&B bros PM Dawn to rock outfit The Breeders. The idea was to explore production at the expense of songwriting, which was of course already accounted for. Montag’s synthy reworkings are all eminently nostalgic and quite cohesive, making for a first-rate melancholy listening experience.
And whether or not Bédard’s fans can attend his homegrown EP release on Dec 19, he still relishes the process of self-releasing many of his previous albums, which he sees as an opportunity to connect with those who support him from a distance. “I burn my own little mini CDs, I’ll mail them out to different parts of the world, and it just feels great to be able to know who’s out there, because there’s nothing more impersonal than people downloading stuff on iTunes. I like making things that I know will end up in someone’s hands. From my hands to their living rooms. It’s really nice.”
Montag plays at Montreal’s Casa del Popolo (4873 St-Laurent) on Sat, Dec 19 at 9pm, $5. You can download Montag’s Des cassettes et un Walkman jaune free of charge here: montag.bandcamp.com.